Sustainability reporting: GRI to develop sector-related indicators

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) will next year be focusing on the development of specific sector-related indicators under its G4 Guidelines in a bid to encourage businesses to be more transparent with their reporting of sustainability issues and challenges.

Speaking exclusively to edie, the GRI’s chief advisor on innovation in reporting Nelmara Arbex admitted that the level of flexibility allowed in the recently-adopted G4 process has in some cases lead to selective reporting as businesses ‘have been trained to only tell the nice part of the story’.

“There’s always a temptation to emphasise the nice side of business activities and not talk about the problems,” said Arbex. “This will always be a challenge for the GRI when setting guidelines.

“One of the objectives of G4 was to really help companies understand the importance of focusing on specific indicators. If you ask a company to compare everything, you will end up with a checklist. But if you ask that company to generate a bespoke report that focuses on certain issues, then there is of course a lot more flexibility in terms what the business does or does not report.

“We definitely prefer the latter – the GRI wants sustainability reporting to be an expression of thinking processes, rather than a checklist. We want to bring businesses together with stakeholders and industry experts to tackle the real issues.

“This is where this idea of sector-related indicators comes in. When we think about the future of G4 reporting, we believe what will probably happen is that companies from the same sector will end up selecting a group of indicators that are common for all of them. They will, of course, have other bespoke indicators depending on their own, but in time, a natural identification process will develop to help sectors understand what the key sustainability issues are, and how to deal with them.”

Trust in transparency

Arbex, who is speaking at edie’s Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference in February 2015, explained that the GRI’s technical committee is currently discussing how the new sector-related indicators will be developed through industry partnerships, with more information due early next year.

Since the GRI issued its fourth generation of guidelines in May 2013, more than 600 reports have been submitted to the GRI database, with 300-400 due in soon. Arbex, who has worked in the area of sustainability and CSR reporting for more than 10 years, is pleased with how well the G4 Guidelines have been received, and believes the issue of transparency – or lack of it – is beginning to be addressed. 

“Transparency plays such an important role in driving change,” Arbex added. “I’ve been studying a number of companies that are dealing with how they connect to society in different ways, and it’s quite remarkable how more and more companies are going public with their CSR reporting – announcing specific goals in a timeline format.

“This transparency in defining goals is moving thousands of people inside and outside of businesses to change things. It’s very difficult for communications departments to work out the best way of telling the story, but there is still a tendency to avoid key issues and this remains a point for attention.

“From my experience, it doesn’t matter if a company admits it is unsure what to do about a certain issue – this actually creates a lot of trust between that company and its stakeholders. This is why I think sector-related indicators will help businesses realise they are often not alone with the issues they face and they may be able to overcome those issues by working together.”

Nelmara Arbex is among the expert speakers at the Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference, which will address the biggest challenges faced by those striving to improve their report, its impact and the nature of the reporting system itself.

The Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference takes place on 24 February, 2015 at the Inmarsat Conference Centre in London. Read more about the event and register to attend here.

Luke Nicholls

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